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Guy Day Tribute : by Laurie Coots

Dear all,

This weekend, we lost Guy Day. He was one of the greats, and one of the primary architects of this very special place, called Chiat/Day.

When I joined the agency, Guy Day had one foot out the door, having been brought back to provide supervision over LA while Jay focused on building an agency in NY. Retirement however, was not a word that Guy found attractive, once saying that he was a “brown bagger” and that in order to be at his best, he had to have a place to go everyday, and so he kept coming to the office.

Guy kept a desk at the agency (by then located in the Biltmore Hotel) and his phone still rang with amazing regularity. As one of the secretaries that covered Guy at the time, I found him a real challenge. He typed faster than I did. His proofreading and grammar skills were better than anyone else in the building. And he always answered his own phone. Some days it seemed my only contribution to making his life easier, was getting his mail and sending the occasional “panafax.”

But by late 1986, feeling that the agency was headed in the right direction, Guy started coming to the office less frequently, spending time on two things he was deeply dedicated to: improving his tennis game, and getting the novel that was inside his head – out, and onto the page. He would pop in from time to time to perform various “sanity” checks, usually when we had a really big pitch (like Porsche and Nissan), or when Jay was thinking about moving or merging us.

In sharing stories with others who knew Guy well I was reminded of some things.

First, it’s important that we not forget that much of the “no-nonsense” focus on the work ethos, actually came from Guy.

In announcing that he, Guy Day, would be President of the newly merged Chiat/Day, he promptly shared with the Los Angeles Times that his appointment was the result of a coin toss, and that it was a technique that he and Jay planned to repeat annually to determine leadership of the agency. Nobody was ever really sure whether being named President was the result of winning, or losing the coin toss – but it set the stage for the total distaste for hierarchy and any trace of organizational politics.
Sid Salinger, one of Chiat/Day’s first Production Managers recounts,
 

“Guy and I were the same age (born in 1933), so perhaps we shared many of the same ‘old-fashioned’ values.  He was unquestionably one of the most creative people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  He had a quiet, wry, ironic sense of humor, and of honor.  He was even-tempered; quick to praise, and slow to criticize.  Advertising agencies, by their very nature, are generally peopled by mercurial personalities.  Guy's mind was lightning-quick, but his tongue was mannerly and controlled.  He was in every sense of the word, a gentleman -- a gentle man.”

 
Brent Bouchez considered Guy a mentor and is sure that,  “Guy’s judgment kept the company alive on more than one occasion.” Brent also shares the story, of when Guy once fired him in the morning and re-hired him in the evening of the same day.
 
"I threw a tantrum about the account people and bitched and moaned about them not being helpful and getting in the way, etc....hey, I was like 24 or something, I had no idea how good they really were until I grew up. I think Guy had had enough of me and probably a few others and he totally lost it and screamed at me "You're fired. Get the f--- out of the agency". A response that I must admit, had stupidly never occurred to me.
 
Later, Brent Thomas came into my office and asked why I was packing my stuff and I told him that Guy had fired me. He walked away and I continued collecting things from my desk. About 10 minutes later Brent came back and said "stop packing, you're not fired anymore." 
 
That evening as I sat in my office writing a Yamaha brochure, my box still half packed, Guy walked in and sat down. Over the course of the next hour, he explained his point of view on the advertising business, Chiat/Day and account executives. About the account people he said "Why do you keep trying to change them? Who they are makes them good at what they do. Just like who you are makes you good at what you do. And more importantly, you need them. Creative people are lousy at selling the work, they give up way too easily." 
 
As Guy got up to leave I said "So am I still fired?" To which he said "You were never fired" and walked away."

Guy was a brilliant storyteller, and one I could listen to for hours. In his stories the casting never changed: Jay, his partner, was both brilliant and a mad scientist – inflicting his experiments on all of us, and Lee was the creative genius. Guy was always clear, that it would be Lee that would be Chiat/Day’s creative Moses, responsible for leading us into the ‘promised land.’ Guy also used to say that Lee seemed to be the only one who didn’t realize he was our creative Moses, and that it was Guy’s job to remind him of it regularly – especially if one of Jay’s recent experiments had left Lee’s head spinning.

Of all the stories however, it was Guy’s new business bravado that made him one of my heroes. It is the stuff of legend.

There are many stories, but one of my favorites is the one recounted in Chiat/Day the First Twenty Years, in which after seeing some bad advertising for Western Harness Racing, Guy wrote the following to the client, “I am going to disqualify myself from ever soliciting your account because of this letter. Your advertising is embarrassing. You’re a major event in Southern California, and if you don’t care about your advertising, you ought to find somebody who will…” Almost two weeks later, the client calls Guy and wants to talk. Guy, Jay and a team from the agency head over and make a presentation but leave the meeting without the account. Back in the parking lot, Guy and Jay realize they needed a “betting man’s approach” and so returned to the client’s office with an offer he couldn’t refuse – Chiat/Day will bet every dime they make on the account that they can increase attendance by 15%. For every person over 15% Chiat/Day would take a $1/head and for every person under 15%, Chiat/Day would pay the client $1/head. The account came home with Guy and Jay that day. And the campaign was so successful, that the client quickly renegotiated the $1/head bounty as his primary means of agency compensation.

When you ask Lee about Guy, he says, "Guy made me sane while Jay made me crazy. He taught me a lot of things, like how to understand Jay. I probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for Guy."

Rick Boyko also had some very fond memories,

"When I first arrived at Chiat/Day in 1983 as an art director on Home Savings, one of the first people to walk into my cubicle at the Biltmore and introduce himself was none other than one of the men whose name was on the door. Guy was warm, humble and above all always willing to give me time whenever I asked. He became a mentor and teacher to me and one of the main reasons I ended up teaching myself is because of what I learned from him. While Jay challenged us all to push the boundaries and to think bigger thoughts, it was Guy who made sure the thoughts we thought were on brand and strategic. Many years after I left Chiat/Day and had become a manager myself, Guy would periodically send me notes with constructive thoughts. Those many years later he was still teaching. David Ogilvy said he admired and hired “people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings”, I’m sure David is going to enjoy meeting Guy."


Fred Goldberg writes, 

Guy was the first person who I met when I interviewed at Chiat/Day in 1982.  I liked Guy from the start.  He was an amiable, genuine good guy. I don't think I ever saw him get angry or be mean. I had a very positive relationship with him over the years I spent at Chiat/Day and afterwards at Goldberg Moser O'Neill.

Guy seemed to perpetually have a happy go lucky attitude with just about anything and everything.  At the same time he often offered much wisdom. He particularly had a quite perceptive view into people and their motivations.  I saw him consul Jay, and others, on matters where his candid point of view and advice was honest and more often than not, on the mark.  Guy always offered me his frank opinions and advice, which I found relevant and which I appreciated.

I learned much about the "work" from Guy.  He championed it.  I learned much about the advertising business from Guy.  He didn't take it nearly as seriously as most of us did and therefore often had a possibly clearer perspective.  He was a good friend to those he considered his friends.  He was a source of irritation to some others because he could see them for what they really were and didn't necessarily like what he saw and said so.

I am sad to hear of Guy's passing.  I will miss our occasional conversations these past years. He was a good advertising person and his contributions and consul were invaluable. And everyone should remember, without Guy Day there would never have been a Chiat/Day, possibly the greatest creative agency of its time."

I got a personal laugh out of a comment about Guy from Geoff Siodmak, an old friend of the agency from the early days - his observation was right on. Geoff writes, "Guy was the calm to Jay's whirling vortex.  He was so measured, so intense, so balanced,  so in love with his wife and family,  it was a constant inspiration.  And though it did not seem so, he had a lesser tolerance for fools than Jay did.  It certainly kept you alert - when Jay called you a dope, you probably were not - when Guy called you a dope you probably were."

---

As others have said, Guy was an intelligent man, a thoughtful man, a strongly opinionated and yet, a fair and gentle man. Most importantly, Guy was a generous man – one confident enough to persuade, shape and influence from the edge of the spotlight, rather than from its center. 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Guy's family. 

To share your thoughts about Guy, and see tributes from others, please check out the posts at http://www.jayday.org.

Love, Laurie

Laurie Coots
Chief Marketing Officer
TBWA\Worldwide

Comments

Thanks for these memories Laurie. Mine are hazier. I don't have specific Guy stories to add, but just fond memories of a great and humble man who brought wisdom and groundedness to the asylum. I loved my time at C/D. An amazing time at an amazing place with amazing people. I owe a lot to Guy. He made a huge mark on our lives and will be sorely missed.

Although Guy Day was not simple man, I'll always remember him for his ability to offer grounded insights into a sometimes emotionally charged and occasionally political process called advertising. That, and his incredible integrity. He was deeply committed to his word and the agency's specific promise to Porsche that because their brand such a perfect fit for Chiat/Day "we would turn down another company's request to pitch their business even if was Toyota."  These prophetic words were challenged when Nissan came knocking and everyone knew where Guy stood. Years later he brought up that chapter in the agency's history as the fork in the road that separated himself from the rest of the pack.

I knew he was an excellent writer having written many great Honda car ads when they were first introduced in the U.S. which set the stage for a brand personality still being mined from to this day. His great insight on creative people still rings true many years later. His words (from a talk he gave to the WSAAA):

"...I always figured that doing advertising was no big deal. it's just words and pictures, that's all. If the words and pictures come out interesting, it's good advertising. if they don't it's crummy advertising. What's so mysterious about that? ... There are fake creatives and real creatives. The ratio is about 50/50. And the difference between the two has less to do with innate talent that it does with attitudes. And resiliency. And determination in the face of adversity. Want to spot a fake creative? It's easy. just watch how they react when their stuff gets turned down. If they're fakes, they fold their tents and go into a long term sulk. While they blame everyone else for their own inadequacies. Which serves no purpose other than to poison their agency's well. And demoralize everyone around them. Real creatives on the other hand, may sulk momentarily when their stuff gets rejected but then roll up their sleeves, go back back in a room and fishing around in their skulls for an even better idea."

I connected better with Guy after we had both left the agency and over the years he had written me some encouraging emails once I opened up about my own experiences which gave me a deeper appreciation for his words. When he wrote back, he always signed his notes with "God bless".

And that is what I pray for Guy and his family now.

I have no corner on the "I-can't-believe-he's-gone-and-am-really-effected-by-it-thank-you-Guy-market. But he and I did have a relationship that I have, for decades, valued greatly and with respect. I know that I was more than the next "young kid," as he often referred to me; not just the next one passing through.

This "kid" will miss Guy Day.

So strange my reaction to the news. I'm messed up in a generational, I think my turns coming before I know it way. I mean no offense, to him or his family.

Guy was the Supreme Boss, or the other one: the caretaker of purity and work quality and the mission. He's the guy who would actually say what we felt: "No! Let's fire them!!!" And he is the man who repeatedly and more kindly than anyone might expect, would look at me, and others, and say "So what the hell good is it if no one notices!?!" The work, that is.

He and I went to meetings together, worked on the plane together, laughed and shouted at clients and each other...together. We even shared a cubicle wall at the Biltmore together. And Laurie is right, of course, he would answer his phone. "Guy Day..." with a elongated, empathetic, multi-syllabic note for "Day--ee." Not an affectation, an invitation.

I remember his arm around my shoulder, often, shaking his head at the frustrating predictability of a client reaction to some work. Despite his affable exterior, he would be wounded by client selfishness, shortsitedness, fear--particularly when it came from a brand, and the people who's job it was to to have courage, and who could make it all otherwise.

"Sherwood," (or "kid" or "guy"...) "I simply cannot f!@#$ing believe that one! You!?Can you believe that one?!"

Guy taught me the human, refined and seemingly contradictory street smarts of clients and their needs. He said, "remember this, kid, market share matters to them and it should to us." He taught that there was great wisdom to be learned by listening to the dealer; to the franchisee...those who directly touched the customer.

He was, it now seems obvious, the polar and welcome opposite of Jay. But they taught the same lesson...at least to me: my role as "the account man" was just as critical to successfully achieving the agency's mission as anyone else's. Scars on my eardrums will attest to the fact that they'd say it quite differently.

On more than one occasion, Guy told me that the under-appreciated and valued job was the one I did: the account person, the person on the line to help make it happen; to help sell some work; to offer a different brand of courage.

It started with smart, brilliant work, of course. Always will.

With love and an appropriate level of deference, Guy would say that most of the creative guys, including his beloved Lee, couldn't always figure out how to pull work, of whatever quality, out of the bag.

And he told me where the well-earned, anti-account guy rap came from: few of us "got it." We too were there because it was the work that mattered, even when it was another's pen who gave birth to the words; and when their mates, the pictures, hugged those words and joined them for a delicious ride.

"A large part of the agency's credibility comes from the quality of the 'account man,'" he told me. "The agency's mission is to create "great work that works." You can't separate all of you guys. We're all partners, mates, brothers. Or it all failed.

So, I'm going to think more about this, the passing of my mentor, friend, pal, nemesis, lighthouse, teacher. Joy. And I will think more about his passing and my long, puzzling and personal reaction to it.

I'll try my best to remember some stories that linger on the periphery. I'll just think about those. And I will so deeply regret that the likes of this man will no longer be among us. "Can you believe that, kid? Can you believe that?"

And I will look forward to the possibility of another day; but one, sadly, that may never come again.

A Guy Day.

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